SLSD faces 2020-21 budget concerns

In an email sent to South Lane School District (SLSD) staff and families on Monday, May 18, superintendent Yvonne Curtis outlined the most recent developments in how the global COVID-19 pandemic will impact local education and SLSD operations.

The Student Success Act (SSA) was passed during the Oregon Legislature’s 2019 session and, once fully implemented, was set to inject $2 billion every two years into statewide education beginning in the 2020-21 school year. SLSD was expected to receive $2.3 million in 2020-21 through the Student Investment Account (SIA) portion of the initiative, but coronavirus closures coupled with future economic uncertainty have put those plans in serious doubt.

“Even as we closed schools and began providing new services during the coronavirus pandemic, we hoped for these increased investments in schools,” Curtis said in the email. “As we close the ninth week of staying home, we face a new reality … The anticipated new state investments in school supports are no longer expected to make their way to Oregon Schools in full, if at all, next school year.”

Curtis specifically pointed to rising unemployment throughout the state — due to COVID-caused layoffs and business closures — as a factor which will significantly impact tax revenues and public budgets in the coming months and years. It may leave Oregon schools in a dire economic state for an undetermined amount of time.

In a press release issued the same day that SLSD email parents, Governor Kate Brown addressed the coming budgetary shortfalls.

With many Oregon businesses restricted or shut down, travel suspended and jobs lost, we expect the revenue that we receive to fund state services will also be significantly reduced,” Brown said. “Our early discussion indicated this impact could be a reduction of $3 billion for the current budget period. We are exploring all available options to weather this recession, and I have directed state agencies to prepare prioritized reduction plans equaling a 17-percent reduction for the upcoming fiscal year as a planning exercise to explore all options.”

For their part, Curtis and the SLSD district office announced in Monday’s email the upcoming efforts that will aim to lessen the financial impact of these budgetary cuts for next school year.

“As we await more concrete financial information expected next week, South Lane School District is already slowing down hiring and spending, discussing furlough days and anticipating layoffs as we develop budget contingency plans,” Curtis wrote.

As schools have transitioned to online distance learning, making the average school day look very different, SLSD — and several districts in Lane County and Oregon at large — will be furloughing all staff four days over the final four weeks of the school year in an effort to save money for the fall.

Both of the district’s union groups support the decision as a necessary measure to guard the financial health of the district and SLSD has applied for the “Work Share Oregon” program that, along with the federal CARES Act funds, will allow district employees to collect state unemployment and benefits.

Furlough days at the end of this school year will also mean a change in school days and SLSD students will thus not have school on the following dates:

  • May 22
  • May 29
  • June 5
  • June 11

In Monday’s email, Curtis also provided updates on several other district operations:

  • Warren H. Daugherty Aquatic Center: Due to an increase in inquiries after Lane County’s phase one reopening, the district would like to inform the community that the swimming pool has not yet been given permission to reopen. This would likely come in phase two.
  • Distance learning: SLSD acknowledged that keeping students engaged has become more difficult as quarantine orders and school closures continue, but reiterated their dedication to regularly contacting students and families throughout the crisis. Details will be shared when the picture for fall school guidelines becomes clearer.
  • Meals: SLSD transportation and food service staff have been on the frontlines providing essential meal delivery service to district students. They have delivered over 50,000 meals since Mar. 17.
  • Kindergarten Online Registration: Due to virus concerns and “Stay Home, Stay Safe” orders, SLSD is restructuring kindergarten registration. Staff is currently learning how to register families through an online process and will communicate the plan on all school websites once formulated.
  • Food/Learning Packet Delivery: Food and learning packet distribution at schools and by busses will continue through the end of the school year.  Due to furlough days, food previously handed out at schools or delivered by busses on Fridays will now be included with the food distributed on Thursdays.  Due to the furlough day on May 22 and the Memorial Day Holiday on May 25, three days’ worth of food will be distributed for students on Thurs., May 21.  Also due to the Memorial Day holiday, packets for the week of May 25 will be available on Tuesday, May 26, at the normal locations.